Improving the look of sun-damaged skin
As Cape Codders, we know the lure of a good day at the beach. But the sun can take its toll on our skin and, combined with the loss of collagen as we age, it can leave some unwanted results.
Sun damage and aging means our skin becomes thinner and less elastic and may appear wrinkled and droopy, a condition sometimes called “crepey” skin.
Nonsurgical techniques using heat can tighten skin and promote production of collagen and elastin, two proteins that give skin its strength and flexibility, according to the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery. These methods use ultrasound, radiofrequency or a combination, and work by heating the skin’s deeper layers.
Hyannis plastic surgeon Michael A. Loffredo, MD, of Cape and Islands Plastic Surgery, is experienced in treating sun-damaged skin. He uses a device that combines radiofrequency (RF) treatment with microneedling, a technique in which a set of needles creates a pattern of tiny wounds at preset depths. These small injuries cause the skin to heal and promote new skin growth, according to Dr. Loffredo.
Because the needles are spaced in a grid pattern, the undamaged skin surrounding the needle wounds facilitates the healing process and makes microneedling less harsh than techniques that affect an entire area of skin. This reduces recovery time and discomfort. Adding RF to microneedling enhances the treatment, he said. The tips of the microneedles use RF to briefly heat tissue at premeasured depths.
The technique is done on an outpatient basis and requires little recovery downtime for a patient. All that’s needed to limit discomfort during the procedure is to first apply some numbing cream, Dr. Loffredo said.
“I prefer microneedling with radiofrequency,” he said. “It’s probably the best thing on the market.”
For some patients, Dr. Loffredo uses a fractionated CO2 laser, which removes the outer layer of skin, and also tightens skin and promotes collagen production. Conventional CO2 lasers ablate the entire surface of a target area. The fractionated laser limits excess heat and damage to surrounding skin by delivering laser energy in short pulses, making the procedure more comfortable and recovery shorter and less risky. According to the manufacturer, a treatment may take 5-15 minutes and requires no anesthesia.
“It’s not a one and done thing,” Dr. Loffredo said. “I usually spread out treatments once a month for about three months.”
RF microneedling is also done over a few sessions and can be combined with fractionated laser treatment, he said.
An option for some areas of the body, such as the upper chest, can be injection of a “hyper-diluted filler,” Dr. Loffredo said, which also acts as a moisturizer, but the effects may be short-lived.
All of these techniques can improve appearance, but they won’t entirely erase all signs of damage caused by sun exposure and age, Dr. Loffredo said. Patients should have realistic expectations of results, he said.
“These aren’t miracle devices, but they will improve turgor of the skin, fine lines and wrinkles.”
Overall, patients are highly satisfied with the results of RF microneedling and fractionated CO2 laser treatments, Dr. Loffredo said.
“We’ve seen a real boom with post-pandemic cosmetic procedures,” he said.
The solution to limiting sun damage is rather obvious, Dr. Loffredo said: Avoid too much exposure to the sun and wear a good sunscreen, which can also help protect you from developing skin cancer. He also suggested adults take care of their skin by using a good moisturizer as part of a daily routine.
“I don’t think you need to spend a lot of money to get a good one,” he said.